Mike Patton Talks "Music From The Film and Inspired By the Book The Solitude of Prime Numbers"
Wed, 26 Oct 2011 08:13:11
"This is a super personal project," says Mike Patton of his score for The Solitude of Prime Numbers.
Patton genuinely invested every bit of himself into this music, and it's immediately evident upon first listen.
In many ways, this is some of Patton's most intimate and intriguing output. Conjuring a sense of existential detachment via hauntingly hypnotic instrumentation, every note rings out clearly on the score. In the space between those notes, Patton's silence does all the talking as it captures the sorrow of the original text by Paolo Giordano and film. The story itself tells the tale of Mattia and Alice, two scarred individuals who, like "twin primes", are close but can never truly connect with each other. Patton's score elevates him to the level of legendary composers such as Bernard Herrmann, and it's indicative of his immense evolution as an artist.
Now, Patton's certainly left his stamp on music with Faith No More, Fantômas, Tomahawk, Mr. Bungle, Lovage, Peeping Tom, and his countless other project. However, there is something extremely special about Music From The Film and Inspired By the Book The Solitude of Prime Numbers (La Solitudine Dei Numeri Primi—available 11-1-11 via Ipecac Recordings. You'll see it and feel it as soon as you hear it…
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTditdrect.com editor in chief and Dolor author Rick Florino, Mike Patton opens up about his score for The Solitude of Prime Numbers, discusses his fascination with soundtracks, and so much more.
What initially appealed to you about the book, The Solitude of Prime Numbers?
To be honest, I went in reverse order. First of all, I found out about the film because the director, Saverio Costanzo, was a friend of a friend. He seemed great, and the script seemed great. I thought, "Well, this is something I should probably attempt." I immediately went and got the book to make sure that I wasn't completely crazy. I'm not sure if there was one thing that grabbed me, but I thought the language was really beautiful. I read it in Italian and I read it in English. It's a lonely desolate planet, and I think the book really reflects that very beautifully.
It's an existential beauty.
There's loneliness similar to Taxi Driver.
Yeah, I was about to say it's missing that visceral, violent element, but that's in there too! I really think the writing itself and the language that Giordano's using is what probably sunk its teeth into me the most.
When you first read the script, did musical ideas begin brewing? Or did you sit with the material for a while?
I didn't actually start hearing music until I was about halfway through the book, to be honest. A script is a desert in a way, and it's hard for me to judge whether a script is really going to be good. I've done a few films, and I'm still trying to learn how to decipher a script. I knew that I liked it, and it flowed well. Of course the language is very different, and it's very matter of fact and cut and dry. I didn't exactly hear music. Maybe it's just because I was saving myself. When you're a composer for a film, it's about taking direction. You can sometimes hear exactly the wrong thing [Laughs]. I tried to keep my head devoid of ideas while reading the script. When I read the book, all bets were off. I started having ideas, and I actually wanted to write the entire score just for solo piano. I'm a big fan of David Shire's score for The Conversation, and I thought maybe I could do something in that vein. The director didn't like it though so here we are! It's really about an emotion and a feeling. Hopefully, I achieved a little bit of that with the score that I did.
Do the characters or story itself exert a bigger influence on your musical choices? Do they both have an equal impact on your process?
It depends on the film. For this one, the director was very specific. A very old trick is to give a character a certain theme. Then, you give character number two a different theme or mood and go from there. Saverio did not want that. He wanted more expansive atmospheres from different scenes as opposed to characters. He didn't want a certain character to walk onscreen, and you hear a harp, for instance. He didn't want signifiers in that way. Actually, that was pretty challenging for me. The only other way I've done it hasn't necessarily been character-driven, but more so I'll choose a principal theme and just write a shitload of variations [Laughs]. On this one, I wrote maybe three or four themes and very slight variations on them. It was very challenging for me to keep them minimal and poignant.
The notes really ring out and resound. Sometimes, when there's no music, it's just as impactful.
Thank you! That's fully intentional. If there's something I want to get better at and learn a little bit about, it's minimalism and letting notes and individual instruments speak for themselves as opposed to layers and layers and complex arrangements. That's another reason that the idea of doing this score really appealed to me.
Was it important to maintain a dichotomy between these intense moments and beautiful music? In the book, many of the darkest moments are written in such an eloquent manner.
Yeah, absolutely, I think what I was hearing in my head the entire time was a solo instrument. Piano was just an example, but it's a lone instrument with no accompaniment whatsoever. That's where I was coming from. The director was approaching it from a very different point of view. In a strange way, he saw this as a horror film. He was very adamant about me that evoked that kind of atmosphere. His point of reference was actually John Carpenter's stuff from the '70s and '80s. That threw me for a loop. I didn't see it or hear it. He threw some old Carpenter tracks over a few scenes, and I was like, "Oh, okay!" Sometimes, someone has to paint you the picture and then you get it.
It's quite different from making an album where every element is born from you. You're working off another artist's film and an author's book.
That's one thing that I really like about doing something like this. There are so many points of reference that you really have to bring your own language to the table in a sense. You're part of a very large ensemble, and it's not about you [Laughs]. Most of my records, I know when it's done, and that's it! I'm the director so it's actually very fun and energizing to work with someone else who has that responsibility and drive. For instance, I wouldn't have added any of those '70s or '80s-sounding synthesizer textures to create tension at all. I wouldn't have used that tool. That was the director's idea.
What's your take on "Weight of Consequences"?
That is basically a compilation. There was one scene that I was trying to nail that was very long. The music comes in and out, but it's always there and droning along in the background. Again, not a strength of mine…I struggled with it. I wrote a couple of themes, and Saverio was like, "It's too thematic; it's got to be more background". That track is a composite of three, four, or five different ideas that I was forced to put together [Laughs]. I meant that in a good way. I strung them together and made one gigantic passage basically to fit the scene.
There's a lot of tension in that particular track because the moments of rest make the music even more impactful when it comes in.
One can only hope!
Does working with a director and all of these other artists translate into other musical ideas outside of the score? Will it inspire you to write anything else?
Well, maybe…it's not like working on this is going to give me an idea to do another project or something. It's more about perspective and learning to be even more open than you thought you could be in terms of accepting other ideas and making them work. That doesn't sound very artistic, but it actually can be. It can be very inspiring. There are certain viewpoints. Anyone can go into a museum and look at a picture and have an opinion. Sometimes, it's nice to listen to other people's opinions as opposed to saying, "This is what I think".
Was the process behind your score for Crank: High Voltage significantly different?
Very different, yeah. First of all, I was in Los Angeles for the entire process and I was meeting with the directors every few days. It was more of a hands-on experience. Maybe it was because of the proximity, but there was a little bit more direct interaction. The track with The Solitude of Prime Numbers was the director and the film company were in Italy, and I was here. A lot of it was done via email or over the phone. We met a couple of times, and that was it. There was a lot of trust involved. Also, it's a very different kind of film. It was much less of a pressure cooker. There was more money behind Crank 2 and more opinions involved. It took longer, and it wasn't just me working on my own. The important thing for me about The Solitude of Prime Numbers is I really wanted to be alone. I felt like I had to be alone and play all of the instruments myself. I actually thought that was an important component of the music.
How different were the experiences of reading the book in both Italian and English?
It's difficult to say. Obviously, the language in Italian is much more flowery and fluid. Let's be honest, it's a more beautiful language. But, I was really impressed by the English translation that I read. It was pretty good. I read the book in Italian first, and the translation by Shaun Whiteside didn't make me think back. I never thought that it was translated. It's a little more direct. It's a little more graphic, as is the English language! If I were really to point out a difference, the English version was slightly more to the point and a little bit more barbed than the Italian, but in a great way. Maybe it hit me harder! I'm not sure which I liked better to be honest, and that's saying something because, obviously, who likes a translation? Do you like dubbed films? [Laughs]
Was there a certain soundtrack that introduced you to the world of film scores?
I wouldn't say a certain score, but maybe just a phase in my life, absolutely. It was a long time ago. I was probably 25- or 26-years-old. I think I was in Marin County at this old vinyl store called Village Music. They had tons and tons of soundtracks cheap. I'd go through and I'd look at cover. I'd say, "This looks interesting" and I'd buy it because it was like two or three bucks. All of a sudden, I started collecting soundtracks out of curiosity. What attracted me to it was, coming from a rock band background, I thought, "Wow, on one record you can go to all of these different universes and still have it be cohesive". I thought, "If I could make a rock record like this…" I think that influenced my writing for other bands like Mr. Bungle and maybe Faith No More. I don't know, probably. Anyway, I had more soundtracks than I knew what to do with all of a sudden. Of ten soundtracks, I probably saw like four of the movies! It was more about the music for me and discovering the way that it was done. I'm not sure that I've learned too much about the way it's done, but I'm definitely a fan of the craft and I'm trying to learn as much as I can about it. It wasn't just vinyl either. At that point, I was buying cassettes and anything I could. Obviously, you gravitate towards certain composers, but then there are other people who surprise you. Pino Donaggio worked with Brian DePalma a lot, and some of his scores are incredible.
Have you heard the score yet? What's your favorite Mike Patton song?
See our interview with Mike Patton about Faith No More and Mondo Cane here!